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Sabres look for penalty kill to stay strong in matinee vs. surging Wild

Good day from First Niagara Center, where the Sabres and Minnesota Wild face off at 1 p.m. in the ninth of Buffalo's 11 afternoon games this season. Buffalo has two other Saturdays at 1 this month: March 12 against Carolina and March 26 against Winnipeg in the return of Tyler Myers and Drew Stafford.

The Sabres are 4-3-1 in matinees thus far with a complete split at home (3-3-1). The lone road afternoon game was their Jan. 10 victory in Winnipeg.

"I personally like the 1 o'clock games myself but it's really not about me," coach Dan Bylsma said today during his pregame briefing with reporters. "I think our players are comfortable with the preparation for it. It's a little bit different" than a night game "but I think we've settled in to being ready and prepared for these games and enjoying them."

The Sabres have no changes to their lineup from Thursday's win over Calgary. Robin Lehner (5-7-3/2.33/.931) will make his fourth straight start in goal and his ninth in the last 10 games.  It's expected the Wild -- who are 7-3 under new coach John Torchetti -- will go with starter Devan Dubynk (24-21-5/2.35/.918). Dubynk made his Wild debut here last season after being acquired from Arizona and it was a 7-0 shutout, the worst blanking the then-tanking Sabres have ever endured on home ice.

The Sabres have pushed their way into the top 10 on the penalty kill, standing at No. 8 in the NHL on the strength of a 66-of-73 run the last 26 games -- and a dominant 27 of 29 in the last nine. Remember, Ryan O'Reilly has been out the last six games and he was a key member of the PK and took most of the defensive zone faceoffs.

"One of the things about a good penalty kill is you step over the boards knowing you're going to kill the penalty off," Bylsma said. "Regardless that you're facing good opponents, good power plays and the other team's best players, you're stepping over with a plan and a purpose and you're going to kill it off. I think you see that with our guys."

The Wild have scored a power-play goal in eight of their 10 games under new coach John Torchetti, operating at a solid 23 percent efficiency in that time

The Sabres were at 75.4 percent on the penalty kill on Dec. 1. Since then, they're at 86.9 percent -- and the figure is 89.3 since Jan. 1. For perspective, the NHL's season lead is shared by the New York Islanders and Anaheim at just 86.7 percent.

"Even when it gets to a 4 on 3 or a 5 on 3, they have that swagger about them stepping over the boards," Bylsma said. "I think that's something early on in the season we just didn't have at all. It's something they've developed over the last few months."

The Wild won their first four games under Torchetti, including an outdoor romp of Chicago on Feb. 21, lost three straight and have now won their last three. The Sabres are just 2-6 at home all-time vs. Minnesota.  The Sabres are 5-0-2 in their last seven home games against Western Conference opponents and a point today would tie the best single-season streak against the West in franchise history, a 7-0-1 mark during the 2009-10 season.

Be sure to catch up on today's reads, including John Vogl's look at the struggles of Matt Moulson -- complete with Tim Murray's blunt radio interview on the slumping veteran.

In the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Michael Russo looks at how old friend Jason Pominville has gotten a clean slate under Borchetti, and quieted the growing chatter he was a buyout candidate.

As for Bylsma, he's been a hot topic this week too. Especially since he opted not to start Jack Eichel for the opening faceoff against Connor McDavid Tuesday against Edmonton

In case you missed it in Friday's editions, my column on Bylsma is drawing quite a lot of reaction on social media from folks in Pittsburgh. In today's paper, Jerry Sullivan adds his own thoughts on Bylsma in his weekly mailbag.


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